Dinner parties are about people, conversation, and connecting with those around you - it’s that simple! The goal of a dinner party is for everyone to have a good time while enjoying a wonderful meal together.
While the idea of having people over for a dinner party and planning a menu for everyone may seem like a daunting endeavor, the solution is simple. Planning a menu doesn’t need to feel like a daunting task, and you don’t need a Pinterest-perfect 5 course meal to create a beautiful meal for your friends and family. However, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind while planning out your menu to keep you on course and so that your dinner party is pulled off with ease and the whole evening is only smooth sailing (as far as your meal - we can’t promise anything about the guests).
Therefore, that’s why planning ahead is vital because if the host is stressed out, guests will be stressed out.
Here’s a few tips for how to plan a menu for an epic and stress-free dinner party.
Plan the Theme:
- What’s the occasion? - Is it a holiday that usually has a themed menu for example, Easter when most expect lamb or ham. How formal is the occasion meant to be - an extravagant affair with a full 5 courses or something simple with 3?
- What’s your budget? Plan ahead on how much you can spend on ingredients for the number of people attending. This will determine how elaborate or simple you’d like to keep the menu.
- What’s the season? Is it hot outside? Then leave the oven off and center the dinner around grilled steak and salad. You can easily do a full meal on the grill including dessert! Or, if it’s cool outside, think about winter foods to warm your guests - like a big pot of beef stew.
Plan the Setting:
- How many guests will be attending? - If you’re hosting less people, it may be easier to create a more complex menu (such as plated courses), as opposed to a larger group, in which case you will want to side towards a simpler menu.
- How long do you have to prep? - Think about if you have all weekend to cook, or if this is during the work week. This will also help you in determining how simple you want to keep things and in choosing dishes that take less time to cook.
Ask Guests About Dietary Restrictions:
First and foremost, do a quick check with those who are attending to see if they have any dietary restrictions. You can easily work around any restrictions for certain people and make sure there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Plan an Appetizer and Drinks for the Night:
Start by thinking about what to offer your guests as they arrive. Starting the evening off by serving wine and an appetizer or two. Not only can it help guests to relax and mingle right off the bat, but it also makes the guests happy while it buys you more time to finish up last minute cooking and preparations.
During the evening, try to keep away from serving copious amounts of fried food. If you’re going to serve fried food at all, now would be the time to do so with an appetizer. You can also keep appetizers light and simple - something as easy as a bowl of nuts and/or chips would still do the trick.
Unless you’re a master bartender, it’s a good idea to have a few staple drinks handy for guests. Have the basics such as flat and sparkling water on hand, as well as ice. Have a beer and wine option, and it would be fun to have a specialty cocktail available for the evening as well.
When it comes to wine with dinner, wine pairings or bubbles would be fun if you opted for a longer and more complex dinner menu. If not, have a red and a white wine available with dinner, while keeping in mind if any of the wine needs to be chilled or decanted ahead of time.
Plan the Main Dish:
Plan your main dish before the sides, as this will determine your flavor profile for the evening. For example, if you wish to do a Filet with Gorgonzola, you’ll probably want to accompany it with lighter side dishes like roasted asparagus.
Whatever you choose, keep in the mind to try to cook only one complicated dish at the very most. This will aid you in your endeavor to prep ahead, stay on course, keep your sanity, and enjoy your time with your guests instead of stressing in the kitchen.
Plan the Sides:
Whatever you choose for the main course, you should have at least two sides to go with it as well. They should both complement the flavors of the main dish and, by rule of thumb, one should be a potato, rice, or grain (something starchy), and the other should be a vegetable dish. Always feel free to add more than one vegetable dish - just make sure you include both types of sides.
A Starter (Optional):
Depending on how simple you want to keep your meal and what you are serving for the main course, you might want to serve a light first course of soup or salad. If not, you can also serve salad as a side dish - it’s up to you how complex you want the meal to be, and if you are doing courses at all or if it’s more a casual buffet style meal (a good option with more guests).
Throw in Some Bread:
Bread is almost always an amazing extra side to throw in. It’s a super simple way to add another filling side, especially when people are drinking at a dinner party. Our favorite is a simple garlic bread using our Maitre D’Butter find the recipe here. In each box of Golden Steer Steaks, we include our house made butter. Simply slice the bread into pieces, lather the butter on top, then pop it in the oven and broil until the top is browned and done!
Plan the Dessert:
At the end of the meal, be sure to have a dessert to offer guests! This is the cherry on top of the evening. Be prepared to offer them another drink with their dessert to top off the meal such as coffee, tea, lemon and water, or a fancy digestif, like a cordial.
Food Colors, Textures and Flavors:
Keep in mind that the more colors in the different dishes, the better. After all, we eat with our eyes first.
For the textures, it’s always a good idea to have something crunchy - a chopped nut garnish one one dish would add some oomph.
A variety in flavors is always amazing, but make sure the flavors work well together. You don’t want too many dishes with bold flavors, especially if they don’t mesh well. On the other hand, don’t overdo the same ingredients in different dishes. For example, don’t serve pork (or any meat) in more than one dish - switch it up, and don’t put goat cheese in more than one dish - it would be overpowering.
With these tips on how to prep ahead for your next dinner party meal, you’ll be able to plan a delicious menu without stretching yourself too far and instead will be able to focus on your guests, and not frantically running around unprepared.
Now that you’re a pro at planning a dinner party menu, checkout how to set the mood for your dinner party.